The name Durrow suggests an ancient wood or forest of Oak (Darú) which once encompassed this area in Co. Laois. A settlement sprung up here in the Early Medieval Period (400-1169 A.D) associated with an early church site attributed to St. Fintan Maeldubh (7th Century). This monastery is believed to have stood on the grounds of the present Protestant Church in the town until its ruins were knocked in 1731 (Carrigan 1905, vol. 2).
There is a reference to the manor of Durrow in the possession of the Bishops of Ossory in the 13th Century, where it was contested by Earl Marshal and Bishop Walter de Brackley. In October 1245 a grant was made to Bishop Geoffrey of Ossory for a yearly fair to be held in Durrow on St. Swithin’s Day and the following 5 days (15-20th July), with a weekly market to be held there on a Thursday. (COD 1171-1307). By 1350 the Red Book of Ossory mentions that Durrow was the most valuable of “temporalities” in the See of Ossory. The Old Episcopal Manor-House or Castle was demolished in the early 18th Century where it was located on Castle Hill. In 1716 Lord Ashbrook erected the present Castle Durrow near the site (Carrigan 1905, vol. 2).
By the time of the reformation in Ireland in the 1530’s & 40’s and the coinciding Butler resurgence, the manor of Durrow was granted to the Butlers, subject to a fee paid to the Bishop of Ossory of £5 annually. Prior to this these lands had seen illegal encroachment by allies of the Butlers, the Purcell’s of Foulkesrath (1515-1540). Shortly after this, armies of both Butler and the Mac Giolla Phádraigs contested the vital bridge at Durrow, with the Butlers prevailing on that occasion. It would seem these conflicts prevented the town of Durrow from prospering as a market town in a way it should have been, being located on the borders of two important midland dynastic territories. Instead the town became a haven for cattle rustling and smuggling during the turbulent 16th Century history of these parts (Edwards, D. 2003).
County Laois was shired in 1556 (Queens County) as part of the Plantation process adopted by the Tudors. Upper Ossory which included Durrow remained as a separate territory within the Lordship of Upper Ossory controlled by the Mac Giolla Phádraigs (Fitzpatrick’s). Durrow and the immediate area around it was disputed by the Butlers of Ormond.
In 1571 Thomas Butler kidnapped Barnaby Fitzpatrick’s wife and son and forced him to pay a large ransom for their return. By 1575 the Mac Giolla Padraigs with the tentative support of Lord Deputy Sidney (who was an opponent of the 10th Earl of Ormond), occupied the manor house/castle at Durrow and burnt two nearby Towerhouses to the south of the town, in present day Co. Kilkenny (one at the Purcell castle of Foulkesrath). Two years later the Castle of Durrow was returned to the Earl of Ormond.
Upper Ossory was subsumed into Queens County on 21st July 1600 (COD) at the request of the 3rd Baron Florence Fitzpatrick, who had incidentally married Catherine O’More a daughter of Patrick O’More of Abbeyleix, one of the off shoots of the famous Leix Clan. Durrow passed into Queens County as a result, but the manor it seems was still held in fee by Butler. As we see on the Down Survey Map of Queens County (1654-6), Durrow is considered very much as part of County Laois. Between 1660 and 1688 the manor was the subject of to a number of legislative procedures which led to its annexation by Ormond Kilkenny by an Act of Parliament. It is believed that the reason for this was due to tenants belonging to the Duke of Ormond in the area who were being harassed by members of the Fitzpatrick’s, and when trials as a result were held in Co. Laois, the Fitzpatrick’s always seemed to be acquitted. With the annexation, trials could be held within the jurisdiction of Kilkenny. In 1660’s the Ashbrooke Family (a military family) moved to Durrow and were recorded as paying 6 shillings in Hearth Tax for the old Castle at Durrow in 1664. William Flower 1st Baron Castle Durrow, purchased the lands outright from the Ormond Estate and built the present-day Castle Durrow in 1716. The manor remained under the civil administration of County Kilkenny, with Baron Flower recorded as being High Sheriff of Kilkenny in 1731. Another prominent Durrow land owner who was related to the Flowers family was also Sheriff of Kilkenny in 1785 namely William Ridge of Durrow (TLG). In Lewis’ topographical dictionary 1837 he describes Durrow: “The town, which is on the bank of the river Erkin, contains 236 houses forming a square, many of which are well-built and slated, It is included in the county of Kilkenny for civil purposes, but is completely surrounded by Queen’s county, of which it formed a part until the Earl of Ormond, by act of parliament, procured its annexation to Kilkenny” (1680’s). In 1824, the Spring Rice Committee recommended to the British House of Commons that a survey of Ireland at the scale of six inches to the mile was required to provide a definitive indication of acreages and rate values for the purposes of establishing local taxes in Ireland. Borne out of this need for accurate land measurement for valuation purposes, the Irish Ordnance Survey under Lt. Col. Colby began this work on the 22 June 1824 and completed the world’s first large scale mapping of an entire country by 1846. In February 1842 the Ordnance Survey Commissioner Richard Griffith recommendations were that Durrow be returned to the Queens County and this was signed into legislation.
Carrigan, William (1905). History and antiquities of the diocese of Ossory. Volume 2. Dublin: Sealy, Bryers and Walker.
Calendar of Documents in Relation to Ireland Various
Edwards, David, 2003. The Ormond Lordship in County Kilkenny 1515-1642
TLG – The London Gazette 1785
Maps see in text.